Year 4: Life is short & love is forever

Four years ago, while writing my wedding vows, I imagined a future with Bret: traveling the world, writing books together, moving to new cities, and finding adventures. I probably thought about the hardships, too. I figured we’d support each other through challenging careers and hold each other up through life’s struggles, whatever they may be. Maybe in the back of my mind I considered a far distant future after our parents had the chance to retire, travel, and live full lives when we’d have to say goodbye to them, but I never imagined losing my father so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and so young.

My dad is on the forefront of my mind all the time. I miss him so much that it hurts, and this pain impacts every aspect of my life including my relationship with Bret. Bret has assured me, a hundred times, that I’m still me and we’re still us, and we’ll survive this and continue to honor my dad and have him be a part of our lives forever. And I believe that. But still. The ground under my feet is unsteady.

One of the questions in my daily journal is: are you craving adventure or stability? Every year, I write: ADVENTURE! But this time? Stability. Stability because I feel unsettled and unsure of everything I’ve ever believed to be true. Nothing feels real and I’m not my normal optimistic, joyful, or adaptable self. And I hate that.

One thing that doesn’t feel real or make sense right now is time. I know that it’s May, technically, but most of the time, I feel stuck in those early weeks of January, and then I forget what month it actually is. I almost forgot about our anniversary, for example. I remember looking at Bret sometime in early March and saying, “Our anniversary is next week” and it was just a passing thought.

We realized our anniversary was the same day that our car, Sparky, was scheduled for service so we just went together at 7am and enjoyed the complimentary Panera bagels and coffee that Subaru serves while you wait. Then, we had typical work days. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but after we ate, we opened a couple sweet cards from friends and family. I tried to reflect on the past year like I usually do, but it felt surreal in a bad way. It felt wrong because those past 12 months were wonderful until they weren’t.

In Year 4 of marriage, we:

  • Explored Scotland, England and Wales with new friends
  • Visited Bret’s parents’ in their new Florida home
  • Spent time with my family in a town my dad had always wanted to visit
  • Watched the Olympics (Bret LOVES the Olympics)
  • Celebrated Bret’s birthday in Asheville with friends
  • Attended the first JMU football game of the season
  • Had friends & family visit us in Boone
  • Watched the Gilmore Girls revival together
  • Spent an amazing time in Disney with my in-laws
  • Enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my family

…but then my dad died. It still doesn’t feel possible. And my heart hearts.

One of my friends described the experience of losing her father as a “crack in the universe” where there is a definitive ‘before’ and ‘after’ and I already feel that so much. It’s impossible not to.

Since January, while attempting to navigate this life that doesn’t make sense, I’ve leaned on Bret in ways I never wanted to. He’s been there through uncontrollable tears and panic attacks. He’s brought me food and water and tissues on demand. He’s let me be angry without being angry in return. He’s dropped everything to drive me to Richmond (a 10 hour round trip), or to watch a family home video (17 of them), or whatever I’ve needed. He helped me set up a shelf in our living room to honor my dad when I decided I needed that done immediately, for example. Just, anything. I’m sure I’d be doing the same things for him if our situations were reversed. This reality we’re living: it’s just something I never, ever anticipated.

At some point when Bret was consoling me for the third time in a single day (I’ve cried more in the past few months than I’ve cried in our whole relationship), and listening to my same difficult questions, I told him I felt bad because he didn’t sign up for this, and he just said something like, “Of course I did. Remember that whole marriage vow thing?” which made me cry more.

Days after our actual anniversary, I realized we hadn’t taken our annual photo. It was snowing outside so Bret suggested we just stand outside on the deck. We set up the tripod and wore our matching JMU sweat pants:

Taking this photo felt sad and forced – completely different from every year before. I’m glad we have it now, though, that I see it added it to the collection:


Year OneYear Two | Tallahassee, FL


Year Three & Year Four | Boone, NC

Usually this is where I’d say cheers to year five, but I don’t know what I want for this year. I feel guilty even acknowledging this anniversary, to be honest.

We do have one big thing planned: we’re traveling to Japan. Bret is teaching in China this summer and I’m going to fly over and meet him in Tokyo when he’s done. Part of me wants to stay here, tucked away safe at home, but I have been dreaming about visiting Japan for years, and my dad encouraged me to take this trip from the start and again whenever I shared any hesitation in going. So I’m going for him. And for me. And to try to scrap together any semblance of hope that life can still be an exciting adventure.

Some days that does feel like a distant possibility, other days it doesn’t. For now, I’m just going to stay grounded in the truth that has never felt so true: life is short and love is forever.

Three Years of Marriage

Bret and I have been married for three incredible years.

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I clearly remember driving up from Florida three years ago and wondering if the snowstorm making it’s way through Virginia was going to prevent our vendors and guests from making it to our wedding. The sky was clear and the sunshine was warm and we just laughed because we knew we were heading into a blizzard. It’s funny what you remember. Continue reading

Two Year Anniversary [Marriage is work]

Last month, Bret and I celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary. We’ve been married for TWO YEARS!

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Sometimes I hear people say that marriage is work and I feel so fortunate because I think… [so far] our marriage hasn’t felt like work. We talk about everything, and we care about the same things. Plus, Bret is hilarious. If I’m in a bad mood or if we start arguing, half the time, Bret can make a face or say something that cracks me up and reevaluate if I’m really angry at all. I mean… how couldn’t I smile at this face?!


In all seriousness, though, as I was thinking back and trying to consider what moments had the biggest impact on me this year, I kept coming back to the smallest, simplest and seemingly effortless gestures. Examples of kindness, really. When I tried to sum up what I’ve learned about marriage this year, I went back to this article, Masters of Love that I read several months ago. As I read it for the first time (most of it aloud to Bret), these facts really hit home:

  1. The majority of marriages fail. Whether its divorce, separation, or just dissolving into bitterness and dysfunction. Only 3 out of 10 marriages remain healthy & happy for the long-term.
  2. You should be there for each other during tough times, but research shows that supporting each other through the good times is even more important.
  3. Kindness matters the most.

“Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”

This year has been challenging one. With Bret writing his dissertation, being on the job market, and holding down a full teaching workload, it’s pretty much a miracle that we’ve had time to be together at all. While I work 8:30-4:30, Bret works 8AM-6PM, takes a walk and dinner break with me, and then keeps on working 9PM-2AM. He takes breaks, of course, but when I close my office door, I usually don’t have to think about work until the next day. Ph.D. students don’t have that luxury – the work never stops (well, until that dissertation is finished). Sometimes, if he can’t sleep, Bret grades or catches up on his work as an online editor. It’s a lot.

I can see how this stressful workload can put a lot of strain on a marriage. And I would forgive Bret if he didn’t always have time for us. Yet, he does. In this busy year, we’ve found time for daily walks. We find time to have dinner together even if that means I make dinner more often than he does these days (I’m learning how to cook, yall!). We make time for us. Reading this article made me realize that all of those little things that we’re doing, all the extra effort we’re putting in to make time for each other… that IS work. And that’s a really, really good thing.

Because of that effort, it’s been a good year.

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As our two year wedding anniversary approached, I knew wanted to mark the occasion with some photos. We kept our tradition of recreating one of our favorite wedding photos [above]. I hope we recreate this one every year! We decided we wanted some more pictures this time around, too, though, since this is our last anniversary living in Tallahassee. We invited one of my best friends and favorite photographer, Tiffany Heidenthal, to come visit us and photograph our Tallahassee life. She did an incredible job as always. I love every one of these photos.

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This photoshoot was bittersweet because we’re saying hello to year 3 of marriage, but we’re also saying goodbye to our Florida life. In a way, this year of our marriage has been a waiting game throughout Bret’s job search. We spent the year knowing it was our last in Tallahassee, but not knowing where we were going to be living next. Every interview was an exercise in patience and trust and faith. I remember telling myself, if we’re meant to end up in New Jersey, we’ll end up in New Jersey. If we’re meant to stay in Florida, we’ll stay in Florida. While it would have been incredibly convenient for my job and professional life if we could move back to DC, as jobs in that region were slowly eliminated, I knew it wasn’t a guarantee. The only thing that’s been for sure is that we’re saying goodbye to this place we call home.

I’m so sad to be leaving, but I’m so glad I have these images to remember our Tallahassee time by.

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I like how we’re leaning on each other here. With all of the uncertainties with the job market and where we would end up, this year was all about supporting each other and staying on the same page. We’ve helped each other out a lot and that’s what I think of when I look at this photo.

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Tiffany did a good job of encouraging us to be “natural” even though I think we naturally “pose” for the camera. She also was great in choosing good back drops. I wanted to capture “downtown” and I never would have thought about stopping in this alley, but it turned out to be the perfect spot!

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I wanted a picture with the dolphin fountain (behind us), and I was going to skip over those stairs, but Tiffany suggested we sat down for a minute. And then we got this great photo. That’s a true sign of a photographer’s eye, I think.

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We got some of our favorite “campus” shots. I love this one in front of the Sweet Shop. I want to frame it considering Bret essentially lived here some afternoons. It’s also a place where we’d go and write on Saturday mornings (I worked on my novel and Bret worked on his dissertation). That’s another big thing about this year of marriage – we’ve really encouraged each other to write more and pursue our creative interest. That’s been really good for both of us.

As soon as we walked on campus, Tiffany suggested we stand up on this brick barrier by this tree that never struck me as a “must have” campus spot… but it turned out to be one of my favorite pictures!

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I’m going to miss that FSU campus. I wonder if we’ll ever live near another college campus covered in palm trees? Speaking of Tallahassee trees, though, how am I ever going to live without my daily walks around these beauties???

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Oh, Southwood. Honestly, what am I going to do without you? This is the place we walk together nearly every evening after work. Like, literally almost every day. It’s where we decompress and share about our days and talk through our ideas. I love this place. It just has this incredibly soothing affect. We have probably walked 300 miles around this place during Year 2 of marriage. That’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. It’s where we talk, and where we think. It’s my favorite place.

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I’m planning to get one of these printed on a big canvas to hang in our new North Carolina house. That way, when I’m freezing in the mountains, I can remember how much I loved living the sunshine state 🙂

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Going back to that article…

Bret and I have always been kind and thoughtful and loving without really having to work at it. I don’t think those qualities come naturally to everyone, but I do think it’s something you can build on over time. For us, the walks help a lot. Making an effort to be kind and thoughtful and talking about your fears and your thoughts and your plans – prioritizing your relationship even when things are busy and stressful – that IS work. And it’s worth it. This year I learned that, yes, marriage takes effort. But that’s not a bad thing.

When it comes down to it, this article is saying that if we would all just just choose to be kind, our relationships would be a lot happier. It’s simple advice, really, but something that I’ve found to be true. Making the decision to be kind is work. And it’s worth it.

This has been a good year. These have been a good two years. And these are great photos. Mom, which one do you want me to get printed for you? Grandmama? Just let me know 🙂

Happy two years, Bret!